Where did I go? What happened with my once successful life to make me feel like an invisible woman at the age of 47?
Sue Carswell: Why wasn't my phone ringing off the hook any longer with requests for dinner invitations, and why was my schedule "uncomplicated"? When I woke up one morning and realized that my life, the one I'd always loved, had slowly morphed into something less, I realized that I needed to take an inventory of sorts. Did I need to update my look? Get rid of the shoulder pads and rethink the pashmina? Maybe it was more than clothes -- maybe it ran deeper than that.
I had been an ambitious correspondent for a celebrity magazine in the 1980s, an editor in book publishing in the '90s, and a senior producer for "Good Morning America" in early 2000. I had countless friends who were newly married, or still looking. I partied like it was 1999. I was dating, and each new encounter was so exciting. "Yes, I love you ... Yes, you're the one I want to spend the rest of my life with!" I was addicted to adventure, skiing the Alps, and skydiving with abandon. Because of my salary, I had money to burn. I was a Ferrari. But then I made a few decisions that felt right but proved risky. One thing led to another, and I realized that I'd become -- to my horror! -- a Ford.
As I reflected on the last few years of my life, I realized that the choices I had made had led me to the present -- a place where I didn't feel at ease. For starters, I had left the fast track behind to concentrate on writing a memoir. Because it was about my beloved and deceased mother, I was passionate about the subject and wanted to meet the deadline. I knew I was taking a gamble with my career because it would mean taking time out from the professional world, but I honestly thought everyone would fall in love with my book. Admittedly, it was a bestseller in my heart, but a non-seller on the shelves.
After I finished it, I decided to jump right back into the career world. I took out my nice Armani suit and hit the job pavement, certain that lucrative job offers would come my way. I got a rude awakening. I was increasingly told, "We'll call you." For the first time in my life, no one did.
Eventually, I got a job sitting in a cubicle fact-checking cover stories at a magazine. Though I'd formerly haunted expensive restaurants, thanks to generous expense accounts, I learned to eat Lean Cuisine and became an accomplished microwave "chef." My last relationship ended so badly two years ago that I still feel the pain. My friends all got married, started families, and life kept getting lonelier. On weekends, when I might once have spent hours with friends talking over endless lattes, I now found myself alone. I had become invisible. I was someone going through the motions of work and life, but without the respect and attention I had worked so hard for years to gain.
When I came to terms with my unwanted invisibility, it was significant and often painful soul-searching that led me to understand that perhaps in my pursuit of career advancement and the trappings of success, I had neglected me. I had become a person who no longer knew herself. I just wanted to go back to being the vibrant and visible person I once was. My first step was to reach out to others, and to learn from their experiences as I created a blueprint for the next chapter of my life.
I began my quest by focusing on my career development. Tory Johnson (the CEO of Women for Hire, the largest career placement firm in the country) maintains, "For all the positive media focus and chatter about the virtues of turning 40, 50, even Boomers hitting 60, the reality is, there's lots of subconscious age discrimination. Employers will come to me to ask for a 'young hot shot.' I'll respond by saying, 'But would you also consider an aging hot shot too?' They laugh nervously, realizing their unintentional faux pas. They tend to think that someone older, wiser, and experienced doesn't get the new way of thinking. So age can play a part."
At this discouraging news, and just as I was about to recommit to a life of Netflix, Johnson adds, "Luckily though, there are those who think, 'I'm tired of young kids running around here. I need someone who has been there and done that, and isn't going to get her feathers ruffled.' The road might be bumpy, but it's not impossible. You can't paint a broad stroke that people like you can't get hired. You have to pick yourself up and keep going. The most important thing is maintaining confidence when you've had so many shut doors, so many rejections, and you don't get enough callbacks. You can't let those people who don't even know you judge you and your capabilities. You can't let a relatively insignificant number of people hold you back." Tory's words hit me and I felt energized enough to conquer the stairs at Philadelphia Hall in my running suit. Instead, I got my interview suit dry-cleaned, and my white shirt starched. Still, mentally, feelings of invisibility proved hard to shake, so I phoned the country's leading radio shrink, Dr. Joy Browne, and told her about my ordeal as a mid 40-something.
"We're as invisible as we allow ourselves to be," counters Browne. "I think that invisibility is not only that other people choose not to tune into you maybe as readily as they once did, but that you somehow are shamed into invisibility. You've become somebody who is willing to stay in the shadows."
Dr. Browne went on to explain that new doesn't mean better. It just means unfamiliar. "So okay, you're familiar. Big deal!" she says. "You can explain to somebody why that familiarity is valuable, and that you bring something to the party that no one else can. One of the things about not being new is that we are tested. We know what our strengths are, what our limitations are, and that we can present ourselves as something that is valuable. New isn't necessarily valuable, it's just new. You don't have to compete with younger women -- you just have to be yourself."
Again, the expert advice struck a chord. But what about my love life? Did I have sexual currency? And why was I only finding frogs on Match.com?
Dr. Tina B. Tessina, psychotherapist, relationship expert, and bestselling author of "My Unofficial Guide to Dating Again," sounds horrified at the thought. "The pits!" she says of web dating. "And for over 40, they're really the pits. You're just like a laboratory rat in there. What you have to do is you have to go someplace. Get your body out of the house and find something that's going on. You're not a piece of meat anymore. You've got to date with your brain. You can't date with your body. You can't compete with the 26-year-olds."
So if not on Match.com, where do people like myself find someone great?
"You have to go where there is serious content to find people of serious content," says Tessina. "You're in the minority, not the majority. It has to be a club because that's where you'll find people who meet on a regular basis and that have something in common with you. Join a horseback riding club, a skiing club, or a cooking class."
Was wearing four-inch heels an added plus? "You need to look good for you. You don't need to look younger than you are. You need to get out there where people are doing what you're interested in." I confided to Tessina that I thought maybe I wasn't as much a go-to girl on the dating circuit because I had smiling wrinkles near my eyes. Would Botox smooth my path to love? "No," she replied sternly. "You have to get a life. Get off the looks thing. You're not going to meet people by looks. You have to have a life with content in it. You can be plenty sexy at 45, but you can't advertise yourself that way."
Today, I've embarked on a new path and now realize that it didn't take much. As soon as I decided to do something, my thinking changed, and my life began to change with it. Yes, I'm more proactive with my career and my life -- but I'd been in control all along. I had always had the power -- the power to make my own decisions. I had decided to come back to me. For content, I've joined two clubs. The first was the YMCA, where I put my bathing suit on and hopped into the pool. A lifelong dream had always been to be a lifeguard. And, although it's not technically a "club," I joined Weight Watchers, not because I'm going for looks over content, but because I want to feel better about myself as I prepare for a new place in the world.
A place where I belong, as we all do.
|Sue Carswell is a Vanity Fair reporter/researcher. She is a published author, former senior story editor for "Good Morning America," contributing launch editor for "O, The Oprah Magazine," former executive editor for Random House Inc, senior editor at Simon & Schuster, and former correspondent for People magazine.|